Psa DNA put under the microscope at Kiwifruit Claim hearings

NZ: MPI ordered to disclose insurance details

The Kiwifruit Claim hearings in the High Court in Wellington has been presented evidence about the DNA relating to the strain of Psa that caused major devastation in the 2010 outbreak.

In week 10 of hearings, both sides called witnesses, with the plaintiffs arguing is that there is strong scientific evidence that Shaanxi Province was the most likely root of introduction for Psa in New Zealand, in that the strain of Psa that was found in Shaanxi shared a common lineage with the New Zealand one. The plaintiffs are not trying to establish that the two strains of Psa are identical saying there are going to be differences between the two, but argue that scientific evidence shows that those differences are so small, and the odds of it coming from anywhere else is minute. It is the plaintiffs job to satisfy the Court that on the balance of probabilities what they are alleging is true.

Photo: Vines at the property of first plaintiffs, Strathboss Kiwifruit Ltd

One of the witnesses called was Dr Russell Poulter, whose evidence covered the genetic characteristics of the strains of Psa present in New Zealand and their relationship to strains of Psa present elsewhere in the world. He also discussed the genetic changes over time of the New Zealand strain of Psa-V, and provided analysis to understand the evolution of Psa-V and how long it has been in the country.

Also appearing for the plaintiffs was Dr Angelo Mazzaglia, who is a researcher for Agriculture and Forestry Services at the University of Tuscia, Italy. His evidence will cover a genetic analysis of the 132 strains of Psa and comments on the genetic difference. 

The Court, in assessing the likelihood of the plaintiff’s allegations being accurate will look at a range of things that common sense, reasonable people would look at, like where did the pollen come from, when was it imported, how could it have gotten out of Kiwi Pollen’s premises into the wider orchard community in Te Puke, and when it might have got into the community.

212 claimants have brought the case to court, seeking accountability and compensation from the Government and Ministry of Primary Industries for over NZ$376m of losses suffered in the incident. The defence have denied these claims, arguing all of their actions were appropriate to knowledge known at the time.

The Crown also called witnesses this week, including Professor Edward Holmes who provided evidence on genetic techniques critiquing Dr Poulter’s methodologies and the conclusions made by both Poulter and Dr Mazzaglia. 

Dr Honour McCann also gave evidence on behalf of the defence, relating to the genomic analysis undertaken on strains of Psa from NZ and other locations. She commented on the robustness of Dr Poulter’s methodology and provided her views on likely origin of the NZ Psa-V, and length of time it had been established in NZ.

Meanwhile, a ruling by the High Court this week is requiring the Crown to release details of its liability insurance cover relating to this case, which has been welcomed by the Kiwifruit Claim chairman, John Cameron.

“The High Court is requiring the Crown to disclose all its insurance details which will ensure the process of facilitating justice is transparent to all parties involved," he said. "Traditionally in litigation well-resourced defendants with liability insurance have not had to disclose details of their cover. This places plaintiffs at a serious disadvantage when seeking to access justice through the Courts."

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